Interview with Stephen Goldhahn, Author of Beneath the Maize

Short Bio: Stephen Goldhahn is a retired process engineer with an MS degree in Chemical Engineering. Throughout his career, he specialized in consulting for biopharmaceutical manufacturing industries. Recently retired, he is now able to focus on his passions as a writer/novelist and history buff. His other interests include music, singer-songwriting, and traveling. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Stephen resides in South Jersey with his wife, Janet, of 39 years, where they have spent the majority of their adult lives. They are proud parents of two grown sons, Kevin and Michael. Stephen is an active member of the American Revolution Round Table of South Jersey and particularly enjoys delving into colonial history. More about Stephen and his work can be found on his website: https://www.stephengoldhahn.com.

1. If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?

Honest, Curious, Family-Man …okay, so I cheated a little with the hyphenation.

2. What inspired you to start writing “Beneath the Maize,” and could you explain the significance of the intriguing title?

Well, it might have something to do with the fact that my wife, Janet, hails from the Badger State—Sheboygan County to be precise. We were married in a small country church not far from the farming community of Howards Grove where she grew up—her first home, and what would become for us a second home away from home. Like the folks in my story, Janet and her family are direct descendants of the first wave of German immigrants to the region in the 1840s. So, as we made repeated trips over the years from the East Coast back to her homeland with our two growing sons, my fondness for cheeseheads, brats, and dairy farms only grew. When I wasn’t rooting for the Eagles, I was pulling for the Packers! As my fondness for this beating dairy heartland of America grew, my admiration for the people most attached to the land—its Indigenous population—also blossomed into a deep respect for their culture and traditions. In particular, my fascination and respect for the history, folklore, and oral traditions of the Wisconsin Winnebago (Ho-Chunk Nation) and other woodland tribes of this region only deepened.

Corn—or “maize”— holds a special significance in Native American culture and ties directly into their religious beliefs and traditions. Corn and tobacco were believed to be the direct gifts of Mother Earth: one to sustain the body, the other to fortify and protect the spirit. It was said that from one breast of Mother Earth grew corn; from the other breast grew the tobacco plant.In modern society, corn also plays a vital role in our agricultural economy. So, in my story, it provides a link between two dissimilar and, tragically, oft conflicting cultures. This is reflected in the front cover design. I think Ivan Zanchetta (Bookcoversart.com) did a stellar job of depicting this.

In a literary sense, too, there is something mysterious—even magical—about corn fields. Story tellers have long recognized this. It can be good magic, as in the movie “Field of Dreams.” Or it can harbor an evil presence, as in Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn.” I leave it to the reader to decide whether the corn, or maize, in my story is good or evil. Or perhaps what lies beneath the corn is the source of magic and mystery.

3. Without giving away spoilers, are there specific character moments or interactions in “Beneath the Maize” that you found particularly impactful or that you believe readers will find memorable?

Hmm. Hard to do without giving too much away. Just think about the title for a moment. “Beneath the Maize.” What might come to mind? As far as character moments are concerned, I think the relationships that develop between the three main characters of the story—Luke Kramer, reporter; Aiyana-Nez Black Bear, biologist; and Dan Myers, detective—are especially impactful and meaningful. There are at least two “born again” moments that are, to me, particularly poignant.

4. As the book incorporates elements from Native American folklore, did you face any challenges in ensuring cultural authenticity and respect? How did you go about addressing these concerns during the writing process?

I relied principally on published written accounts and online sources for information on the history, folklore, and oral traditions of the Wisconsin Winnebago (or Ho-Chunk Nation as they are referred to today), drawing heavily on the works of Paul Radin (The Winnebago Tribe), and David Lee Smith (Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe). The book’s Bibliography contains a complete list of references. This was supplemented by visits to local sites, such as Henschel’s Indian Museum located just north of the Sheboygan Marsh State Wildlife Area, and the Sheboygan County Historical Museum.

As noted in my Author’s Notes section, “(the) story might be considered a modern-day folktale. Drawing on the myths and legends of the Ho-Chunk, I have attempted to weave a tale that combines the myriad threads of ancient Native American culture with today’s world while striving to maintain the highest degree of respect and regard for their origins and authenticity. I apologize if I failed in any way to do so or offended anyone in any manner of speaking.”

5. As a supportive partner throughout your career and creative pursuits, how has Janet influenced your journey as a writer, musician, and history enthusiast?

In so many ways Janet has been my creative inspiration all along. My muse, as it were. As discussed above (Question #2), Janet’s life story, and that of her family, was the spark that inspired me to write Beneath the Maize. Over the years we have supported and encourage done another. Looking back, I acknowledge that many of her life experiences, as a child and adult, communicated to me over the years, have found refuge in each of my two novels. Disguised and mutated, perhaps. But, for works of fiction, that’s as it should be. And I expect this will continue in future projects, God willing.

It was Janet who suggested taking aday trip to Greenwich, Cumberland County, NJ, on Sunday, June 24, 2007, to visit that quaint backwater village with a curious history. “Did you know there was a tea burning there?” she informed me, reading from a New Jersey travel book, Off the Beaten Path.She knew I liked history. And unbeknownst to me, this was right in our own backyard. Upon that day, the wheels started turning in my head. That was the beginning of my first real venture into creative writing, resulting in my debut historical time travel sci-fi novelsome eightand a half years later.

Back in my younger band days, when Jan and I first met, she was a most devoted groupie as we posted flyers together, visited radio stations for air play, and in general got the word out. Later, she becameboth my staunchest fan and honest critic as I struggled through my early drafts, and today remains my biggestfan and inspiration. My muse.

6. Were there specific moments or aspects of the novel where Janet’s input or experiences significantly influenced the narrative or character development?

Many of the characters and events in Beneath the Maizewere derived, at least in part, from experiences Janet related to me, most often from her childhood. Like the little farm girl’s experience in Chapter Five (Prize in a Box). Or the humorous anecdotal account of how Sheboygan got its name as told by Detective Dan in Chapter Six (New Drinking Buddies). That was the same account related to Janet by her mom many years ago. I had to chuckle the first time I heard it.

7. Given the sci-fi and crime mystery genres, were there specific authors or works that influenced your writing style or storytelling approach for “Beneath the Maize”?

I would have to say Michael Crichton and Dan Brown. And more recently, James Rollins. Crichton for his science-based fiction, or more correctly, science gone awry fiction. Taking science to the next “what if?” level, as it were. Dan Brown and James Rollins for their fast-paced, action-packed mysteries, typically with cross-cultural themes and story lines. 

8. As a singer-songwriter, you’ve had experience in creating music. If you were to add a soundtrack to “Beneath the Maize,” what kind of music or specific songs do you think would complement the story and enhance the reader’s experience?

Hmm. Good question. Well, to start with, the soundtrack would have to have a strong resonating quality that reflects the total American experience, both immigrant and Native American. Something classical, the likes of which Aaron Coplan—the “Dean of American Composers” —might compose. Like “Fanfare for the Common Man,” or “Prairie Journal.” There would definitely be Native American elements in the rhythm and themes. Drums and chanting. That sort of thing. But with a mix of European folk music with heavy Germanic influence. A polka, perhaps. Yes, definitely polka!

9. People love “Anywhere You Go,” praising its amazing music and meaningful lyrics. What inspired you to create this heartfelt song? Can you share the specific experiences or moments that influenced its creation?

First, let me say how pleased I am that my music and lyrics have attracted attention. In was, in fact, as a lyricist that my interest in creative writing grew and evolved. “Anywhere You Go” holds a special meaning for me. It was written, I guess you could say, during a period of spiritual reawakening in my life. It addresses redemption and salvation, but without hitting the listener over the head with a message, if you catch my meaning.

10. Now that you’re retired, how do you plan to allocate your time between creative writing, exploring history, and other interests? Do you have specific projects or goals you’re looking forward to pursuing in your retirement?

Barring health issues, future wars orpandemics, I am hoping that Janet and I will be able to continue our travels, exploring little-known niches of history and culture. My writing would continue to feed off of our little adventures. Nothing so grand, perhaps, as overseas travels. But shorter excursions, closer to home. My other interests—music, songwriting, skiing—have somewhat abetted with the passing years. But I sometimes have thoughts of rekindling an artistic bent I once exhibited with pen and ink. Maybe explore the brush and palette. Or simply take a plunge back into the music pool!

11. Do you have other writers in the family and friends?

Yes. As a matter of fact, two of my nephews are accomplished writers/authors with published works in both fiction—mainly short stories—and non-fiction, with novels pending. This includes scientific articles, essays, and what might be called “creative non-fiction.” The one nephew—David R. Bowne—is a professor at Elizabethtown College and holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences. His brother, Walter, teaches English at Eastern H.S., Voorhees, NJ, and sponsors the school’s student newspaper. A great writer! He posts extensively on Medium.com. Our younger son, Michael, a voracious reader, is also working on a sci-fi novel. He is heavily into Dystopia, Urban Legends, Cyberpunk, Science Fantasy, and the like. Wow, it’s amazing where Sci-fi has gone these days! His brother Kevin’s passion is music, and he is one helluva good songwriter, if you’ll permit a parent to boast. But you can see, hear and judge for yourself. Check out “A Million Sweethearts” and “The Gantry” on Spotify and YouTube. 

12. Could you provide a sneak peek into any upcoming projects or novels you’re currently working on?

Well, I am working on some short stories which I may eventually combine into a published collection. Perhaps along with some poems. Although I do not consider myself a “poet,” I do have some verses—more with a lyrical bent—that I have posted to Medium.com. I am also working on a sequel to my first novel (Greenwich: The Final Project), which would take the reader to the next phase of my hero’s historical time-travel journey into his family’s colonial past. Other projects might include a fantasy saga which I had originally envisioned as a rock opera when the band was together years ago. I call it: “GMK-The Great Mountain King.” Move over Tolkien! Haha.

13. What advice do you offer to aspiring authors? Any recommended community groups for peer support and building a collective community?

Though I have written and self-published two novels and posted various articles and poems to online publishing sites (Medium.com), I don’t necessarily “feel” like an accomplished author to the point that I could give advice. After all, I myself am still aspiring! But I will offer this. When thoughts burn within, pick up a pen and write it down. When you wake up in the middle of the night from a dream, good or bad, or with a fleeting image in your head, get up and write it down before it evaporates. Keep a personal journal. And when a storybegins to formin your head, don’t let it go. Write it down. Keep a journal of ideas, and the interesting people you meet, or day-to-day happenings. This is the stuff that stories are made from. And don’t write in a vacuum. Exchange ideas with others, aspiring writers especially. Welcome constructivecriticism, both positive and negative. Join a writers’ group. Zoom works well for this. And read. Read! Read! Listen to what accomplished authors have to say. Find a genre—or genres—that click with you. There’s a wealth of information out there on creative writing. Pick up a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing: A memoir of the Craft. Or Orson Scott Card’s Characters & Viewpoints.

Well, I guess that’s enough advice for now.

14. Finally, can you describe a moment or a specific instance in your life when you realized that writing was not just a hobby but a calling that you were meant to pursue?

Hmm. Honestly, I don’t consider it a “calling,” per se. Not like a vocation or profession. Rather, I would call it a strong impulse or inclination. Even therapeutic. My professional calling was engineering. I accept that. But, as with my song writing, it has always been a contest between my two brain hemispheresfor as long as I can remember. However, if I were forced to pinpoint an event or time when the muse took hold, I would have to say it was that day trip to Greenwich on Sunday, June 24, 2007.

Dive into “Beneath the Maize” by Stephen Goldhahn, a gripping sci-fi crime mystery set in 1999 Wisconsin. Follow Luke Kramer and his team as they uncover the connection between disappearances and mysterious phenomena like GMO corn and Native American folklore. This tale blends magical realism and fantasy, exploring the depths of Ho-Chunk myth. Experience a modern-day legend filled with desperation and love. Available on Amazon, it’s a must-read for those craving mystery with a touch of the mystical.

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